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Struck off solicitor faces Crimes Act charges
Edward Errol Johnston (59) has appeared in the Auckland District Court today on Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charges.
The former solicitor, who was struck off by the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal in 2013, faces three Crimes Act charges of ‘Dishonestly taking or using document'.
During the period December 2011 and January 2012, Mr Johnston owned properties in the Auckland area and had fallen into arrears on his loan repayments to his bank. The SFO alleges that when faced with a requirement to reduce his existing debt, he submitted false Sale and Purchase Agreements to his bank. The bank accepted the fictitious transactions. In reality, the properties were either sold for a higher price than he had stated, or transferred to another Trust and refinanced with a loan from another bank. In January 2012 Mr Johnston submitted an allegedly false Statement of Assets and Liabilities to the bank when obtaining the refinanced loan.
SFO Director, Julie Read said, "These charges serve as a warning, both to banks, to maintain strict checks on all customers, and to property owners who consider dishonest means when needing to reduce levels of debt. There is no benefit to this type of deceit as it will be uncovered and charges will be laid.
Unfortunately, manipulating the system can also hinder access for honest buyers who are looking to finance property."
Mr Johnston did not enter a plea and will next appear in the Auckland District Court on 17 May 2016.
For further media information
Serious Fraud Office
027 705 4550
Background to investigation
Edward Errol Johnston, former solicitor, operated as a sole practitioner in Henderson under the name Ed Johnston & Co, Barristers and Solicitors. Mr Johnston was adjudged bankrupt on 20 November 2012. He was struck off the role of barristers and solicitors in July 2013.
Crimes Act offences
Section 228 Dishonestly taking or using document
(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who, with intent to obtain any property, service, pecuniary advantage, or valuable consideration,-
(a) dishonestly and without claim of right, takes or obtains any document; or
(b) dishonestly and without claim of right, uses or attempts to use any document.
(2) Every person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years who, without reasonable excuse, sells, transfers, or otherwise makes available any document knowing that-
(a) the document was, dishonestly and without claim of right, taken, obtained, or used; and
(b) the document was dealt with in the manner specified in paragraph (a) with intent to obtain any property, service, pecuniary advantage, or valuable consideration.
About the SFO
The SFO was established in 1990 under the Serious Fraud Office Act in response to the collapse of financial markets in New Zealand at that time.
The SFO's role is the detection, investigation and prosecution of serious or complex financial crime. The SFO's focus is on investigating and prosecuting criminal cases that will have a real effect on:
• business and investor confidence in our financial markets and economy
• public confidence in our justice system and public service
• New Zealand's international business reputation.
The SFO operates three operational teams; the Evaluation and Intelligence team along with two investigative teams.
The SFO operates under two sets of investigative powers.
Part 1 of the SFO Act provides that it may act where the Director "has reason to suspect that an investigation into the affairs of any person may disclose serious or complex fraud."
Part 2 of the SFO Act provides the SFO with more extensive powers where: "...the Director has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence involving serious or complex fraud may have been committed..."
In considering whether a matter involves serious or complex fraud, the Director may, among other things, have regard to:
• the suspected nature and consequences of the fraud and/or;
• the suspected scale of the fraud and/or;
• the legal, factual and evidential complexity of the matter and/or;
• any relevant public interest considerations.
The SFO's Annual Report 2015 sets out its achievements for the past year, while the Statement of Intent 2014-2018 sets out the SFO's strategic goals and performance standards. Both are available online at www.sfo.govt.nz
Source: Serious Fraud Office media release